German international Jimmy Keinhorst scored a career first hat-trick as Leeds Rhinos ended their four-game losing run with 42-24 victory over Castleford Tigers at Headingley Carnegie.
The final score was tough on Tigers, who led twice and were in the game more or less throughout, 14 of Leeds’ points coming in the final five minutes.
The bad news for Leeds was another injury, front-rower Kylie Leuluai suffering damage to a knee in the opening exchanges and limping off after just two minutes.
But Rhinos were boosted by the surprise return of prop Jamie Peacock, who had not been named in the initial 19.
His supposed eight-week knee injury, suffered in the Challenge Cup defeat at Huddersfield Giants, kept him out for just three matches.
Remarkably, Peacock - who was placed on report in the second half - played the first 52 minutes before being given a 10- minute breather.
Leeds did most of the pressing in the opening period, but Cas hit them from deep twice - both their first-half tries being scored by ex-Rhinos players - and only back-to-back tries mid-way through sent the hosts in with an interval lead.
It was nip and tuck in the second period and Cas - with Rangi Chase running a show - hit the front again, only for a couple of pieces of magic by Leeds’ Kevin Sinfield-Ryan Hall England combination to get them home.
Debutant Thomas Minns got Leeds - and himself - off to a dream start, scoring the opening try, with his second touch at senior level.
He caught a bomb at the end of Tigers’ first set and then, four minutes in, was in the right place to dive over from close range after Paul McShane went one way, spun around and passed the other from acting-half after Jamie Jones-Buchanan had been tackled just short.
The England academy international was the second teenager to make his Rhinos debut in successive home games, following Liam Sutcliffe’s first appearance in the loss to St Helens.
A product of the Whinmoor Warriors club, Minns was Rhinos’ Under-18s player of the year in 2012 and has touched down 11 times in 14 appearances for the Under-19s this term.
He was named on the right wing, as a replacement for Joe Vickery, but actually started on the left, with Hall switching to the opposite flank.
That meant Rhinos had a mixture of youth and experience on either side. Keinhorst playing only his ninth game for Leeds, was in the right-centre, with Joel Moon partnering Minns.
Keinhorst replaced Kallum Watkins, who was watching from the stands following his ankle ligament injury a week earlier.
With Danny McGuire sidelined by a fractured fibula - which will keep him out for the rest of the season - Rob Burrow switched back to scrum-half and McShane started at hooker.
Up front, Peacock’s surprise appearance allowed Ryan Bailey to move to loose-forward, in place of Chris Clarkson.
He was dropped and will play for Hunslet Hawks against Halifax tomorrow, on dual registration. Mitch Achurch, who was with Hunslet last week, was recalled among the substitutes.
Tigers made only one change to their 17 following last week’s draw with London Broncos, young winger James Clare taking over on the right-wing from the suspended Justin Carney.
Grant Millington dropped to the bench, swapping places with Jon Walker, who started.
Chase had given Rhinos a fright before the opening try when his long pass sent Kirk Dixon a run, only for the winger to lose possession in Kevin Sinfield’s tackle.
On 13 minutes he passed long to the other side, picking out Michael Shenton. Cas’ captain strode clear and found the supporting Weller Hauraki.
He had three team-mates alongside him, dummied towards Chase and glided round Zak Hardaker for a brilliant touchdown, which was improved by Jamie Ellis.
Two Leeds tries in as many minutes mid-way through the half turned Cas’ two-0point lead into a 10-point deficit.
First, Burrow juggled a ball from Sinfield, ran across the defence and found Keinhorst, who had come infield calling for the pass, which he took, bursting past a defender to score unopposed. That was an indication of the value of dual-registration. Keinhorst came into the side match-fit after playing regularly with Hunslet and his willingness to come infield and look for the ball reflected the growing confidence that’s given him.
In the set from the re-start Hardaker took the ball 30 metres from Leeds’ line, dummied past Jordan Thompson and then put the hammer down, beating Jordan Tansey’s last-ditch tackle before celebrating with a dive over the line.
Sinfield converted both to make it 16-6, but Cas were back in it just before the interval, with another breakaway try.
Tigers’ substitute hooker Daryl Clark, rumoured to be a target for Leeds, did brilliantly to twist through some - admittedly poor - midfield defence and Tansey was there in support to race over, Ellis’ second goal making it 16-12.
And Cas were in front for the second time six minutes after the interval, with another long-range score.
Millington burst through a tackle deep inside his own half and - probably to his surprise - found himself in clear space.
Tansey was alert enough to back up and though the pass seemed to come a little too soon he had the pace and footwork to get past last-ditch efforts by Hall and Hardaker, with Ellis adding the extras.
The lead was short-lived though.
Sinfield’s cross kick was taken by Hall and he did well to dump the ball to Keinhorst who went over for his second, improved by the captain.
Leeds’ next try on 62 minutes was similar, but a bit better, Hall making an even better catch and offload from another Sinfield cross-kick, to put Keinhorst in for his third. The conversion made it 28-18, but Tigers roared back as Huby juggled and touched down from Hauraki’s offload after a nice ball from Chase, with Ellis converting.
With five left, Peacock clearly got the ball down, but referee Tim Roby ruled he was held up. That could have been crucial, but Ian Kirke capped a strong game by storming through a gap moments later to seal the win.
Leeds were flattered by a late burst of scoring after that as Sinfield converted Kirke’s try and landed a penalty, before adding the extras after Moon crossed on the final play. The penalty count finished 6-3 in Rhinos’ favour - 5-3 in the first half.